North Salem School District Addresses Lead Issue in Water at PQ

Portion of report highlighting sinks, spigots and faucets with high lead levels at Pequenakonck Elementary School.

The North Salem Central School District tested lead levels in drinking water in the potable water outlets at Pequenakonck Elementary School to comply with a recently-enacted state law.

Of the 85 spigots, faucets and water outlets that were tested, 27, or approximately 32 percent, exceeded the new lead threshold of .15 ppm (parts per million). Most of those those that tested positive were slop sinks, restroom sinks and outside spigots. All but one of the school's water fountains were below the threshold except for one water fountain.

School Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Freeston said “We were pleased to learn that all the hallway drinking fountains and kitchen outlets did not exceed the New York State Department of Health action level.” Speaking at the Oct. 19 Board of Education meeting, Freeston discussed plans to address the situation.

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“Four of these locations are in classrooms, but they are not typically drinking faucets. They have been shut off. We are remedying each one, and then re-testing them. We thought initially that changing the faucets would help, but most are lead-free faucets.

Freeston said the district is in the process of meeting with architects to help determine if the lead is coming from solder used in the piping within the walls of the building. He did not speculate on the potential cost and scope of the diagnostic work that needs to be done.

According to Gary Green, with the school's facilities and transportation department, PQ was built in 1972, although it had some additional work done on various sections and wings years later.

Freeston explained that the state does not require retesting of spigots, faucets or connections that tested positive for high lead levels until 2020. “We do not think that's right,” said Freeston, “We're going to test everything that comes back with an issue this year and then we'll have funding in the budget each year for annual testing.”

The law, signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sept. 6, requires districts to test all water “outlets”. by the end of October. An outlet is defined by the state as a “water fixture currently or potentially used for drinking or cooking purposes,” such as a water fountain or sink.

North Salem tested its water back in April, however, the state regulations enacted were more stringent and schools were required to retest under the new parameters.

The new parameters specify that “first-draw” samples are taken from the water outlets, rather than a 30-second flush. The water must sit in the pipes between eight and 18 hours prior to testing.

“The positive side of this is we support the lead testing,” said Freeston, “We think it's great the state has this initiative. We provided drinking stations to both schools a few years ago for the refilling of bottles and to date more than a hundred thousand bottles have been refilled through them.”

Meanwhile, the North Salem Middle/High School has 280 faucets and outlets that must be tested before the Oct. 30 deadline. Freeston says it's a much more lengthy process that will be done this weekend (Oct. 22 and 23) and he expects the results of those to be learned about 10 days after the initial testing.

Brian Marschhauser contributed to this report.

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